In many ways, the history of the riddle is the history of the Bible. Riddles are scattered throughout both the Old and New Testaments, present in some of the most well-known stories, such as the riddle Samson told at his wedding feast. As The Riddle Project began examining the history of Conundrum Suppers (20th-century events where guests would order meals from riddling menus), we noticed that Biblical ties to riddles were stronger than we realized.
We can see these ties through the recurrence of the same riddles across different continents. Studying the largely American phenomenon of Conundrum Suppers alongside the largely British riddling tradition of Enigmatic Bills of Fare (18th and 19th-century menus which were also portrayed in riddles) brought to our attention the repetition of some riddles. “Adam’s ale” (water!) for example, is one such riddling menu item that appears in 1891 and then again in 1923. Such repetition indicates that Biblical questions persisted among culinary ‘riddlers’ across multiple periods.
Not only do riddles reference the Bible, but ties between riddling events and religious communities were strong. Most Conundrum Supper events were hosted by Protestant churches, their organizers commonly affiliated with a church community. These Suppers were sometimes used as events to raise money for those in need.
1) Schiltz, Katelijne. Book. Music and Riddle Culture in the Renaissance. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2015. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139998260.
2) Milwaukee Daily Sentinel. Newspaper. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: N/A, Aug. 31, 1891. From Gale Primary Sources. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?lm=DB~GDSC+Or+ECCO+Or+MOME+Or+SABN+Or+AHSI+Or+APOA+Or+SMIT+Or+USDD+Or+WMNS+Or+ACLU+Or+MLFP+Or+MMLF+Or+MOML+Or+MMLP+Or+MMLT+Or+AMFN+Or+BPHC+Or+CFER+Or+CPPC+Or+INDP+Or+NCCO+Or+BNCN+Or+DMHA+Or+ECON+Or+FTHA+Or+ILN+Or+INDA+Or+LBRT+Or+LSNR+Or+NCNP+Or+NCUK+Or+PIPO+Or+PNCH+Or+BBCN+Or+NICN+Or+STHA+Or+TGRH+Or+TTDA+Or+TLSH&searchResultsType=MultiTab&qt=RN~%22GT3003085809%22&sw=w&ty=as&it=search&sid=GDCS&p=GDCS&u=crepuq_mcgill&v=2.1&asid=15227dc6. (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).
3) The County Review. Newspaper. Riverhead, New York: Hagen & Lee, May 18, 1923. From New York State Historic Newspapers. http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn84035791/1923-05-18/ed-1/seq-1/ (accessed Feb. 10, 2019).